Understanding the Different Types of Air Conditioners


When it comes to air conditioning, there are several types of systems to choose from.  To help make this choice, you need to understand the different benefits of each type of unit and where best they are utilized.  To begin, there are three primary types of units to consider.

Heat Pumps

While every air conditioner functions with the same basic technology to cool your home, not every unit heats it the same.  It is in this function—the heating function—that most air conditioners differ.  

Heat pumps utilize the same technology used to cool your home but in reverse.  While cooling your home involves refrigerant being pumped to and from your inside and outside AC unit, in heat mode under a heat pump this pumping of refrigerant reverses.  To cool your home this refrigerant extracts heat from inside your home and dumps it outside, and then to heat your home it extracts heat from outside and brings it inside for your benefit.

Straight Cool with Electric Heat Strips

A ‘straight cool’ system means basically ‘not a heat pump’.  Its refrigerant function serves only to cool the inside of your.  For heating the home, electric heat strips are engaged.  This operates independently of the outside unit and runs completely inside your indoor air handler.  These heat strips allow electric current to flow through them and supercharge the coils.  Air then passes over these hot coils and pushes the heat throughout your home.

Straight Cool with Gas Furnace

Much like the straight cool with electric heat strips, a gas furnace with straight cool utilizes refrigerant only for its cooling function.  But when it comes to heating your home, it does not use electricity for this at all.  The outdoor unit stays off during heat mode and the inside unit runs its fan.  The fan pushes air through the air handler and across a gas or propane flame.  The heat from the flame is circulated through the home to warm it to your desired comfort level.

Which Unit Type is Best?

When considering the different types of air conditioners, a major consideration is your climate and your type of residence.  Heat pumps are the most efficient systems but do not do well in the extreme cold, so they’re more popular in the southern states.  Straight-cool systems with heat strips are the least effective and most inefficient, however, they’re smaller systems that fit well into smaller apartments or condos.  Gas furnaces with straight cool can warm your home faster than the other unit types but are not as efficient.  They’re also larger and so not well suited inside apartments and condos.

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